Catawba Valley Healthcare is an independent, comprehensive, non-profit healthcare organization that offers a wide range of whole-person healthcare and services that integrate physical and mental health.

While everyone wants the holidays to be a time of joy, this holiday season will undoubtedly bring unwelcomed emotions and challenges for lots of people– from stress and anxiety to sorrow and depression. 

The impact of COVID continues to devastate communities throughout the US and around the world. Many people are grieving the loss of loved ones to covid-19. Others are worried about hospitalized family members or are themselves caring for someone who is struggling with long-haul covid symptoms. Many are worried about being around people who are not practicing the same level of safety. Others may feel sad and anxious that loved ones may not be able to travel during the holidays to be with them especially as new strains emerge.  Others of us are dealing with economic pressures from this ongoing pandemic and the rise of inflation.

And, let’s face it, even without a global pandemic, the holidays can just be stressful. So, we wanted to offer some tips to help minimize the impact of difficult emotions and stressors during this time.

Tips to Reduce and Manage Holiday Stress

Acknowledge and Accept Difficult Feelings

If someone close to you has recently died, is hospitalized, or is sick, talk to someone you trust, not only about your feelings, but also about how you want to structure your holiday in a way that gives you the support and comfort you need. Whether that trusted someone is a family member, close friend, a therapist, or your primary doctor, give yourself permission to cry and express your feelings. Ask for the support and understanding you need. 

Releasing sorrow or anxiety is important, and having a plan for how and who you will spend time with can make the holidays less painful and may even allow you to feel unexpected moments of joy. If you feel you might need ongoing professional support, do not hesitate to get it.

Seek Out the Companionship of Others, Virtually or in Person

If you are unable to be with loved ones or feel lonely, sad, or isolated this season, try seeking out community, social, or religious events that bring you together with others. If you cannot join a group in person, look on the internet for virtual events, or online support groups that bring you in contact with others. 

Remind yourself that you are not alone. Many others are also dealing with similar struggles and need compassion and human interaction. Sharing understanding can make all the difference. Giving to, and allowing support from, others can be the greatest and most fulfilling gifts of the holiday season. 

Volunteering and helping others, whether in person or virtually, can also lift your spirits, create new connections, and fill you with a renewed sense of purpose.

Be Forgiving Towards Yourself and Others 

Be forgiving and understanding of yourself and others if you or someone you care for gets upset, irritable, or stressed out. Pause and focus on your breath, count to 10 and respond with kindness and boundaries. Many of us have a relative who likes to stir the political pot. When that happens, let them know that you want to focus on celebrating being together and not on politics this season. 

When you know a situation is going to be challenging, be honest with yourself, acknowledge your feelings, and plan ahead for how you can best take care of yourself and others when tensions arise.

Say No To Commitments When You Need To and Set Your Priorities

Try to focus on the people and events that matter most to you:

  • What traditions are truly near and dear to your heart? 
  • What can you rein in? 
  • Do not commit to activities or seeing people when you know it will leave you feeling upset, overwhelmed, anxious or resentful. It may be best to avoid those situations this year. 
  • Put your own health, safety, and emotional well-being first. If you are feeling particularly cautious with your health this season you don’t need to apologize for that to anyone. 
  • Be honest with others about how you are feeling and what your needs are. When it is not possible to say no to an invitation, be sure to give yourself time to do something that relaxes you afterwards to make up for time spent with others that has felt stressful.

Practice Healthy Habits Through the Holiday Weeks

Be good to your health during this time of year when it is easy to overeat, over drink, or over use tobacco or other recreational drugs: 

  • Try to fit regular exercise into your daily schedule.
  • Select healthy snacks and meals to counter delicious sweets or prevent you from overeating. 
  • Get plenty of sleep. 
  • Try incorporating deep-breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation into your week. Clear your mind and slow down your breathing with activities like listening to calm music, or sitting quietly by a window. 
  • Limit the amount of time you attend to the news or social media if either causes you stress.
  • Be sure to make time just for yourself if you need to de-stress by taking a break from the company of others. Spending as little as 10-15 minutes alone may refresh you enough to be able to better handle emotions and stresses. 

Stick to Your Budget to Avoid Financial Stress

Before going off to do gift and food shopping, decide ahead of time how much you can afford and then stick to your budget. Choices and sacrifices made in order to provide a holiday experience you want to give (or feel pressured to give) can be draining, financially and emotionally. Tapping into your bank account too much for the holidays might leave you starting the New Year in a vulnerable spot. Holiday anxiety doesn’t suddenly vanish once the season is over. So, do not try to overly impress anyone or try to buy happiness. Stay within your predetermined budget. 

Consider giving homemade treats or gifts which are a wonderful way to express your love without breaking your bank account. A family or friend gift exchange can be one way to limit the number of gifts given. Remind yourself that you do not want to start the New Year feeling stressed because of holiday spending.

Anxiety Symptoms

Despite your best planning and efforts, stress, depression and anxiety can still take hold and manifest in troubling symptoms, including:

  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability 
  • Depression

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, take action. Listen to your thoughts and emotions. Reassess your commitments or personal contacts. Accept that you may not be able to address these symptoms on your own or with the help of a family member or friend. If you are feeling persistently sad, anxious, or unable to sleep or perform routine chores, it may be time to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor and a mental health professional who can provide experienced support, guidance, and any needed medication management. You are not weak for seeking help. To the contrary, you are strong to take action both for yourself and the benefit of others.

Take Control and Put Your Needs First This Holiday Season

Do not let this holiday worsen feelings of sadness or stir up excessive feelings of anxiety. Take the necessary steps you need to feel that you are in control. Put your health needs first so that you can be your best, not only for yourself, but for others. Recognize and accept your own emotional triggers that might include particular circumstance or people, financial or time pressures, personal demands or self-imposed expectations of how you should or should not feel. Knowing your triggers can help you combat them before they lead to a feeling of being overwhelmed.

In sum, be kind to yourself this holiday season. Be your own best advocate. Be forgiving with yourself. With planning, good communication with family and friends, and professional support if you need it, you can find peace, comfort, and some joy during this time of year.

At Catawba Valley Healthcare in Hickory, North Carolina, we are here for the health care of our surrounding communities. If you need professional support from a primary care physician or a mental health professional, visit our website @ or call us today at (828) 695-5900.